John McCain and Joe Lieberman gave interviews to U.S. media outlets during a trip to Egypt Sunday, in which the two neoconservative Senators seemed to be conducting their own foreign policy; criticizing the president from foreign soil, calling on him to encourage protests in Iran, and even saying the Obama administration should supply arms to the Libyan opposition.
In the CNN “State of the Union” interview and in an earlier appearance on “Meet the Press” — where the Senator is frequently booked — McCain said the Obama administration should have imposed a “no fly zone” over Libya to prevent the Gaddafi government from using its Air Force against civilians.
In contrast, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, also appearing on “Meet the Press,” said politics should stop at the water’s edge, in declining to criticize the adminsitration’s conduct on Libya. Not so McCain and Lieberman. They sounded familiar neoconservative notes: calling not just for an immediate recognition of the opposition groups who have seized control of part of Libya as the new de facto government, but also calling for American weapons to be shipped to the region.
McCain echoed support for a “military option” in Iraq, and even called on Obama to call for pro-democracy demonstrations in China. He called on Obama to “reverse his terrible 2009 decision of not supporting the demonstrators in Tehran.”
Lieberman acknowledged, when questioned by CNN reporter Candy Crowley, that the president was right to be cautious in the early days of the Libyan uprising, which the administration did in order to ensure the safety of American diplomats and other civiloians seeking to lead the country. But he went on to say the president should instead have warned the Libyans that the U.S. would use military force if any Americans were to be harmed.
On the “no fly zone,” McCain said on MTP:
“They’re using air power and helicopters to continue these massacres,” he said. “We’ve got to get tough.”
While McCain said the U.S. should recognize a provisional government and offer assistance, he also said he was “not ready” to introduce U.S. ground forces.
“Look, Qaddafi’s days are numbered. The question is how many, and how many [people] are going to be massacred before he leaves, one way or another?” he said.
McCain also suggested that anyone fighting for the Qaddafi regime should know they run the risk of finding themselves “on trial at a war-crimes tribunal.”
While the president himself has called for Qaddafi to step down, saying he has lost all legitimacy to rule, and the U.S. and U.N. have imposed sanctions and frozen the Libyan dictator’s assets, and the fact that the U.N. resolution, to which the U.S. is a key signatory, already refers Qaddafi and his goons to the International Criminal Court, the hawkish presentation by the two Senators, who visited Tahir Square for a photo op earlier in the day, were the harshest attack on the administration by U.S. politicians to date. So far it has been mostly commentators, including Christopher Hitchens — a strong supporter of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, Bush-era neocons like Paul Wolfowitz, who also slammed the administration on CNN Sunday, and liberal commentators who have attacked the Obama administration for not being forceful enough in supporting the demonstrations breaking out across North Africa and the Middle East.
Agree or disagree with the criticisms, only McCain and Lieberman are making such statements from a perch outside the United States.
Meanwhile, asked about Egypt, the Senators did not seem clear on the fact that the Egyptian army is now in control of the country, so that any criticisms of the use of force against the continuing demonstrations was in fact a criticism of the new government, but when pressed on that fact by Crowley, McCain said emphatically that the army did not want to rule Egypt.
Also on Sunday, the president of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, announced he will run for president of Egypt when elections are held, perhaps as soon as this fall. Moussa is said to be a popular figure in Egypt, and would likely be a strong candidate. That could further disturb Israelis, since his popularity comes in part from his scathing critiques of Israel. Still, the Arab League in recent years offered Israel a comprehensive peace settlement (which Israel rejected) — and that could signal he is willing to be a player in the peace process as president. The constitutional reform panel rewriting Egypt’s constitution is moving to limit presidents to two terms, a first for Egypt.
An interesting perspective on the Israeli angle here.
Also interesting and als from Slate: Qaddafi vs. Bin Laden, a history.
Qaddafi’s sons: delusional or just in denial about the brutality in the streets of Libya?